How Bad Is It?

First — an editorial comment that this thread contains some of the most insightful and well thought-out commentary, both pro and con. I’m reduced to “yeah…..what they said!”. Will – you are blessed/cursed with a well-educated, well-spoken electorate.

My $.02 :

I’d like to make sure we’re all aware of the magnitude of the gun violence problem and put it into a public health policy perspective. While Newtown represents a horrific worst-case scenario and we hear every day dire statistics about death and mayhem, is the problem really a national epidemic worthy of press and political attention it’s getting?

Let’s use death by firearm as a proxy for the metric “How Bad Is Gun Violence in the US?” (another way would be injury by firearm – see below *).

There are about 313 million people in the US. In 2010 in the US there were 358 deaths involving rifles, 6,009 involving handguns (total 6322 Source Wikipedia). Two-thirds of these were suicides (4214). I’ll take the bold step of saying that these are mental health issues, not gun-violence issues and we can have a separate discussion of how we can keep mentally unstable people away from guns, cars, knives, baseball bats and any other sort of weapon (i.e., focus on the problem, not the symptom). That leaves use with 2108 deaths per year. Further, this includes every criminal who’s been killed by police as a result of a crime. Let’s call that a “lifestyle choice”. The numbers here are harder to come about, but in 2011, about 10% fell into this category. We now have the number of deaths caused by the use of a firearm it’s owner.

That leaves us with 1898 deaths per year directly attributable to gun violence. We should also remove accidental deaths, but I could not find any stats for this.

There were 2,468,435 deaths in the US in 2010, so one way to think of this is that .08 of one percent of all deaths are caused by guns and that in a population of 313 million, your chances of being involved in gun violence are .0006 of one percent.

Compare and contrast to some other killers in 2010:

Heart disease: 597,689
Cancer: 574,743
Chronic respiratory diseases: 138,080
Stroke: 129,476
Alzheimer’s: 83,494
Diabetes: 69,071
Kidney disease: 50,476
Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097
(source: CDC –
Gun violence does not make the “top 10” list. In fact, does not even make it to the top 100.

I was amazed and horrified to learn that several of my good friends whom I consider “reasonable rational people” failed to get their flu shot this year. Getting the flu is not only dangerous to yourself, you can actually cause damage by infecting others, and if these people are very old, very young or otherwise compromised, you too, can be using a lethal weapon (your germs). 50,097 deaths were attributable to flu. 26 times the number of people killed by gun violence.

…and yet…the flu vaccine is not mandatory. And I’ve heard no proposals to make it so.

Personally, I’ll take a “Mandatory Flu Vaccine” bill over a handgun bill any day if we’re interested in passing life-saving legislation. It will save a lot more people.

It’s estimated that 100,000 to 400,000 deaths are attributable to obesity. I give Mayor Bloomberg full credit – while the new New York gun control laws will probably save no one (statically speaking) the mayor’s ban on sugar laden big-gulps may just save a couple people from heart disease down the line. While gun legislation is a nice, new sexy topic, I’m sorry, but I often wonder why… twice as many people die each year from accidental drowning in the home and yet I don’t’ hear a great hue and cry for the banning bathtubs or private pools.

My point here is that I hear a lot of emotion-laden rhetoric about guns right now. Don’t get me wrong, my heart goes out to the victims of senseless crime and violence, and as a society we should work to eliminate unnecessary death. However, I think many people in and out of government simply follow a knee-jerk reaction to emotional stimulus instead of pursuing a rational, educated and informed public health policy.

Regarding gun violence, let’s first admit that it’s nowhere near as big a problem as getting kids off junk food, or preventing smoking. If we do want to take some public policy steps, let’s focus on “big wins”:

1. More funding to Mental Heath
2. More funding for firearm safety programs
3. Better data collection
4. Better background checks

THEN, let’s start to look at other causes of death and get ourselves as worked up about preventable causes like obesity and smoking and spend some time in a debate that will really matte in terms of public safety.

* In contrast to “death” there’s about 50,000 injuries that are firearm related. The problem here is that it’s hard to classify injury as a direct result of intent. Most firearms injuries (and some firearm deaths) are the result of lack of training or failure to follow proper process (put the safety on and never turn your back on Dick Cheney). I feel point number 2, above address this stand behind the use of “death” as opposed to “injury” as a proxy for the metric “how bad is gun violence in the US?”

(disclaimer – I’m not a gun owner but I do support the right to responsibly own and use guns).

2 replies on “How Bad Is It?”

  1. Thanks for crunching the numbers Rich, but as Sen. Brownsberger is a Massachusetts State Senator, I think it’s prudent to focus on the numbers for gun violence in Massachusetts. We’re well below the national average, and score in the bottom 5 for most metrics. Admittedly this is attributable to our restrictive gun laws that are above and beyond those in place at a national level.

    While I don’t have an objection to the VAST majority of proposed laws/initiatives, I can’t help but think that most of it is reactionary due to the political climate after Sandy Hook. For each point in the proposed bills, we need to ask ourselves: “will this address a significant problem faced in Massachusetts?”. If the answer is anything other than a confident affirmative, then I think we need to err on the side of restraint against further infringing on the 2nd amendment rights of responsible and law-abiding gun owners.

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